Episode 371 - Brian Callahan - AD2BA
Dr. Brian Callahan, AD2BA, has a background in music, anthropology, Japanese video arcade games, and open source software, leading him to amateur radio and his Extra class license as a new and younger ham, as well as a college professor to younger potential hams. AD2BA shares his experience and insight on how we might get them.
AD2BA, this is Eric 4Z1UG. Are you there, Brian?
Brian, AD2BA: Hi, Eric. How are you? Greetings from wonderful upstate New York.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, greetings, Brian. I am great, from Israel. I'm sure this is fall in New York is here, so the weather must be beautiful.
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. If you live in upstate New York, this is the season to be here. All the trees are turning colors. It's no longer incredibly hot, and we're just not quite yet at the point where we're getting snow. Although I fear that is coming.
Brian, AD2BA: Absolutely. The snow comes early here unfortunately sometimes.
Eric, 4Z1UG: So Brian, thanks for joining me on the QSO Today Podcast. Can we start at the beginning of your story so that we get to know Brian Callahan before he became AD2BA?
Brian, AD2BA: Sure. So you alluded to there. I have a short ham radio journey, I guess one could say. My license has only been active for the last 15 months or so. I got licensed back in July of 2020. So there's a lot of story there leading up to how I decided to get involved with ham radio. So I come from a suburban town in New Jersey called Old Bridge for those of you who know it. If you do take a pin and stick it right in the center of the state of New Jersey, you'd come pretty close to hitting the town that I grew up in.
I always had a lot of different interests growing up. Mainly, they were either technically related or they were musically related. So on the technical side, I was really interested in free and open source software, free and open source versions of Unix, things like Linux, stuff like that. I was also a very interested in getting my hands involved in touching electronics. So one of my hobbies is in arcade collecting. So I'm used to handling raw PCBs. I learned how to solder components through that hobby that I have.
Then musically, I was on a trajectory that I thought would end me up in a career in classical music. I had spent, at least since I was 10-11 years old, taking professional lessons. I was actually going to two different high schools when I was a senior in high school. So I had what you might consider the normal every day high school Monday through Friday, and then on the weekends, I was traveling into New York City to attend Manhattan School of Music. So that was another school on top of all the other school that I was doing.
So I've always been interested in sound, music, audio. I've always been interested in the technical side of life and the world. Always been interested in computers and electronics. Learned to code at some point while I was in high school so that I could add additional features to a video game that I was playing at the time.
By the time I got to college, I had realized that my interests are broad to the point where I could pursue just music, but I also wanted to pursue other things as well. It just so happen where I did my undergrad at Carnegie Mellon out in Pittsburgh, they had a program for people who wanted to combine some major in the arts with some major in insert whatever the other major that you wanted was. So I took music with me and I also begun to get very interested in the study of people, anthropology. So I ended up dual majoring in both music performance and anthropology, which you might think, What in the world is someone going to do when they leave college with that kind of dual degree?"
So I thought for a while if I didn't get into the music industry, I could always fall back to being an academic in what we might call musicology or ethno-musicology, the history and cultural history of music both here in the US and throughout the world.
So I ended up applying and getting accepted and attending an anthropology master's program out in Monmouth University, also in New Jersey, not too far from where I grew up. Through that, I had realized that there is a such thing as the anthropology of technical people. I just didn't know there was a term for it at the time or even as I now know a whole discipline about it.
So after I finished that master's degree, I learned about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which is where I'm actually now at as a professor, but at the time, it was to go there to pursue my PhD in a discipline called science and technology studies, which tells you a whole lot about what I might study and maybe not so much about how I actually go about studying it.
I ended up doing a project where I studied a collection of transgender computer hackers to understand how they move about large technical spaces. All throughout that time, I was always in contact with people who were part of amateur radio, even though I myself at the time was not yet part of amateur radio. So I knew about it. I had a roommate in college who I'm going to blank on his call sign.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Brian, before we go there, you've given me this giant package to unpack, okay? That's okay, but I have my interest and hopefully I can steer the listeners also. So let's go back a second. You said that you do arcade collecting. Let's talk about that. What is that?
Brian, AD2BA: So for those of us who maybe grew up in the '80s and '90s and early 2000s, before and then slightly during the rise of home video game playing, you actually had to go to a location, an arcade, if you will, to actually play video games. What people don't necessarily realize is that these machines were really custom electronics and custom computers all the way back from their history. We tend to think nowadays of computers that are mostly cookie cutter, like, yes, you can have a different CPU or things like that, but these machines, these are key machines where almost entirely custom at the time. So I ended up getting the interest in collecting specifically a specific genre of game that was mostly popular in Japan called Bullet Hell or Danmaku for those who know.
So you end up buying machines. You end up buying these custom computers that then plug in to these machines. So you have to learn how to repair them because they're really expensive. One single game can run you several thousand dollars. So that's an investment that you want to make sure that you keep up and running almost at all cost.
Eric, 4Z1UG: We're talking a game that's in a painted box that has buttons on the outside. When I was a kid, we had electromechanical arcade games, right?
Brian, AD2BA: Yup.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You're talking about what we see in the movies from the '80s and '90s where the kids go into the big arcades. That's what you're talking about, but your game, did you see it in America?
Brian, AD2BA: No. Actually, I saw them on a trip to Tokyo, actually, and fell in love with them, and then decided that I should bring a whole bunch of them back with me. So I did much to my wallet's disappointments.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You shipped them in a container.
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. So they come in different parts. So the machine you have to ship by boat, but the actual games themselves, they look like the PCBs that we might be used to as ham radio operators. So you can transport them oftentimes like you would any PCB that you might be working on in your own ham lab.
Eric, 4Z1UG: So essentially, you could actually still bring it back, plug it in to your monitor, and buttons, and joysticks, and enjoy the game while the rest of the machine was being shipped to you.
Brian, AD2BA: Yes. Exactly.
Eric, 4Z1UG: So did you end up keeping the whole arcade or did you become an expert in this line of arcade collecting and then became a trader of these machines?
Brian, AD2BA: So I ended up keeping what I buy, not that I don't find trading to be fun, but I only tend to buy the games that I had a deep personal interest in. So once I have them, it's difficult for me sometimes to let them go, so to speak.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You mentioned earlier that you developed an interest in free software, that I get, open source software, well, that's an interesting idea, and that led you to Linux and Unix. How did that evolve for you?
Brian, AD2BA: Sure. So I guess when I was, I don't know, much younger, around the turn of the millennium is when I discovered Linux. This is back in the days of the dial up modems. So I remember having literally an all-night phone call dialing in to the internet so that I could download something that was Linux-based, that would install on this pretty, even at the time, old and falling apart laptop that I had.
I remember struggling with that a lot. Then it really took off when I got to college. So when I got to college, I was surrounded by people who were very interested in the free software and open source software movement. So I brought that laptop with me to college to continue to experiment on and with.
I ended up finding what are called the BSD family of operating systems, which are just another family of open source Unix operating systems, managed to install one of those on that old laptop, thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen, the idea that I didn't have to pay Microsoft anymore however much money they were selling Windows XP at the time for, and I could have my laptop fully working.
Fast forward to about 2012 or so, I'm also starting to get very interested in what we would call exotic architecture. So computers that have CPUs that maybe aren't the ones that we would be used to seeing in our laptops. So I had gotten a bunch of that hardware, and as you can probably imagine, you can't just install Windows on that exotic hardware. They don't make Windows that works on that hardware. So again, I turned my attention back to free software, open source software, and specifically that knowledge of the BSDs that I had gotten when I was in college, it turns out there was one variant of this operating system called OpenBSD that did run on all of my exotic hardware. I installed it. It worked.
As I think a lot of us can maybe appreciate in ham radio, I found things that weren't quite perfect. So I set about DIY-ing it, figuring out how to get it to do the things that I wanted it to do, and I would send those changes back to the team. Then early 2013, the OpenBSD team had actually invited me to become a developer for that operating system, which I still do to this day as a hobby, and I very much love and enjoy working on OpenBSD with the limited free time that I have.
Eric, 4Z1UG: When you're talking about unusual computers, are you talking about computers that might be for process control, stoplight control, more application base rather than database point of sale?
Brian, AD2BA: So these are actually computers that were trying to compete with Intel for the general population workspace. So a lot of machines, particularly in the '90s, a lot of Workstations were built for people who were let's say in the film industry or some other narrowly focused industry that were far more powerful than the machines that we were able to get our hands on as consumers. Those machines still are out there in the wild.
So because those machines are out there in the wild and they're getting older, people are replacing them with what we might consider to be just general purpose laptops, desktops, and then mobile devices these days. So there's a market out there for people who want these things.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You might be talking like Silicon Graphics, Workstations, things like that.
Brian, AD2BA: Yes. Actually, I am looking at my SGI O2 as I talk to you right now. Those are exactly the kind of machines I'm thinking about.
Eric, 4Z1UG: They were used for animating films and cutting films, things like that. We talk about film, but it's like saying, "I tape recorded your call." Nobody has a tape recorder anymore, but it's the generic name. Well, that's very cool. Certainly, I myself have become a Linux user, although the truth be told I had to bring up a Windows machine here today just to be able to program a ham radio device, but I think that's amazing.
Now, what did you like about OpenBSD say versus Fedora or one of the other regular Linux distributions?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. So it wasn't anything other than that old laptop I had with me that I brought with me to college to try out. At the time, this is about 2005 or so, there was no Linux distributor that I could find that could make all the hardware on that machine work. It just so happen, I guess one day I was probably Googling for something like free operating system but not Linux, and this thing called FreeBSD that I had never heard of before had popped up. So I figured, "What's the harm? I'll give it a try. We'll see if it works."
It turns out that FreeBSD at the time could support all the hardware on that machine. So I was just a creature of habit where I was already in this community, and so this is the one that I thought of when I came back to it in 2012 to begin a more constant relationship with open source software.
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So the audience will indulge me for just a second. Would a user feel a difference between OpenBSD or FreeBSD and one of the regular Linux platforms?
Brian, AD2BA: Probably not. So they do both have the same common heritage of Unix. BSD is actually far older than Linux. So BSD actually can trace its source code history all the way back to Bell Labs in 1969 from the very first Unix machine ever built. So it was actually that Unix developed in the '70s and '80s at Cal Berkeley, which is the time it was just known as BSD. It was the Unix of the '80s.
Then at the '90s rolled around and Linux came about, and there was more of a movement for free software and open source software. The BSDs were able to release their source code also as open source, and then another community formed around it. If you know Unix through way of Linux, then any of the BSDs would be really quite comfortable for you and you wouldn't probably notice much of a difference.
Eric, 4Z1UG: When you were talking about the anthropology of technical types, obviously, the first thing we think of as older people are curmudgeons. Did you find in your study of technical types in an anthropological form that we mostly are curmudgeons or did you find a wide variety of people in the technology area?
Brian, AD2BA: I think curmudgeonly might be an adjective best used elsewhere, not really to describe all technical people. So my work specifically was within a minority community within tech. What I was really interested in learning about was how minority groups can use technology as a way to give themselves voices for arguing for rights, for defending their existence. I was actually working with particularly a transgender community.
So they were really focused on what does it take to prove that we have the skills to be part of the conversation, what technical background do we need to bring forward to prove that we can speak the language of tech while at the same time remaining true to who we are as a minority group, and figure out how it is that we can better get representation for this particular community in the larger tech field.
I wouldn't say that there were many curmudgeons either within the group that I was specifically working with or in the groups that they would then work with. One of the things that I've been really fortunate with, I think, is just how open all the people that I've worked with in tech happen to be.
Now, that's not to say that I haven't run into a couple of curmudgeons over time, but on the whole, I think people are actually surprisingly more open and interested and willing to learn and see and touch and interact with all the newer stuff that appear seemingly every day in the tech world.
Eric, 4Z1UG: By the very nature of open source, you have maybe stumbled into a community that happens to be open and sharing, right? That's the nature of doing any kind of open source project. You want to share it because you're interested in the team effort. Would you say?
Brian, AD2BA: Yes, absolutely. I think that's a perfect summation.
Eric, 4Z1UG: It's funny. We're supposed to be talking about amateur radio. I'm always begging forgiveness of my community, but I'm going to do it again here. I want to go up on this tangent for just a second just to clarify something. It seems to me that just by the nature of being a computer hacker, being a transgender computer hacker would imply a certain amount of anonymity because you don't really know who the hackers are, right? It seems like they're already in a level playing field. Is that the case if you're a hacker?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. So this is an interesting question that had come up time and time again in my research with them, this idea that that famous New Yorker cartoon, behind the screen nobody knows that you're a dog, that type of thing, and that if only you could produce the best work, then that work will naturally rise to the top. It turns out it's actually a lot more complicated and complex than that.
People forget although computer hackers do a lot of work behind the computer screen, they do not do all of their work behind a computer screen. Oftentimes, people get together, right? Just as ham radio has conferences, just how you run the QSO Today conferences, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of conferences every year for tech stuff and hacker-related stuff.
So these people do see each other all the time, and in a lot of ways all the messy politics both good and bad still appears because it is not totally just behind the screen. There is a pretty significant not just human element, but actually in-person element to all the work that we do as well.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Certainly the lessons from your work could probably be applied to the ham radio community. As individuals, we probably come from every walk of life and every political persuasion. Yet, our common love of amateur radio seems to be that glue that bonds us together and we just don't go into those areas where we might have differences. I think this is very important in terms of creating a strong amateur radio community in a period of time when things are so divisive over everything else. So perhaps computer hacking is that same kind of area in terms of being able to have a community that maybe looks the other way on the other issues that divide people.
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. I think that is one of the many lessons that we can draw from that kind of work. I have to say, too. I have, at least in my short amateur radio career, have experienced that with all the other amateur operators that I have encountered. Everyone really puts the hobby first and foremost and center in all the interactions that I've had with them. I think that's done a really good job at both introducing and welcoming me into the hobby, as well as giving me ideas for how I could help bring in other people into the hobby as well going forward.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Okay. So I think we've unpacked that pretty well. Let's now step into your amateur radio life, which has just started, but what was the catalyst that pushed you into the hobby?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah, sure. Like I was mentioning before, I've always been in contest and around amateur radio people. Then as is true I'm sure for all of us, the pandemic happened, and I was at home not enjoying a summer to its fullest because of all the lockdown restrictions that we had had. I was thinking a lot about how and what I could bring back to the university with me that could students interested and involved in research or get students interested in other aspects of IT that maybe we don't get to have in just the classroom.
It dawned me on that I had already always known about amateur radio, so why don't I just do it? So in the middle of July in 2020 I said, "All right. I'm going to sit down. I'm going to study for the exam. I'm going to take the exam, and I'll be off. If I truly, truly hated amateur radio, then I'll be out the 15 bucks that it cost for the exam," but I had a sneaking suspicion that I would probably enjoy the hobby quite a bit. In fact, I did and once I had that technician license in hand at the end of July, I said to myself, "Well, it's only another two exams to go and get my Extra."
So I immediately signed up for a general exam as soon as I finished my tech exam, took the general exam, passed it, and the same thing, I immediately signed up for an Extra exam. So within a month of getting first license, I already had my Extra class ticket. Then has come the hard work of figuring out, "Okay. Now, how do I bring this hobby and all its many, many different facets back to the university and back to my students?" I think I'm still working on that.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Yeah. So before we go there, Brian, let me ask a question. You're a newbie to the hobby. You've approached our community. How did you approach the amateur radio community? Did you find a club? Did you go online? How did you approach someone to be able to give you the test?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. So at the time, the ham study website, they had an announcement on their front page that said, "We will now accept online exams." So I guess the FCC is now accepting online exams. They had this whole calendar app on their page and you had to find a date, and then you put on a date and it gave you a list of all of the exams that were willing to be offered by all the different VE teams. So you had to click on one that match the time that worked for you, and then they had a certain number of slots, right? I think the ones that I signed up for and I did mine out of Columbia University. So shout out to the team down at Columbia University in New York City.
I signed up for a time, got an email back. You even paid online. So I remember paying through PayPal, and then it's like what we have now. You get on to Zoom at your time, you turn the camera on, the VEs would look at you, you would look at them. The VEs would make you show the room that you were in to make sure that you didn't have any contraband for the exam while you were taking it. Then it was all on your computer.
So you sat there, they watched you take it. You had to leave your camera on. You took it. You click the grade now button, and you've got an answer right then and there. It told you if you passed or failed right then and there. When you passed, they had you virtually sign the forms and then they emailed everything to you, and you would have, at least I had it the next day. It was actually really wonderful and streamline process.
I'm sure a lot of us want to go back to doing in-person exams, but just coming from that experience, I think it would be great if we also found ways to keep that online testing going because I can see that being very helpful maybe for hams who are shy and don't necessarily want to or can't bring themselves to get out and meet some people face-to-face at first easing them into all that in-person stuff.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I want to take a minute to tell you about my favorite podcast, the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast with George, KJ6VU, and now joined by Rod, VA3ON, Mike, VA3MW, Mark, N6MTS, and Vince, VE6LK. Every two weeks, George and company offer up a status report on the many amateur radio projects on their workbenches and explore projects on their guesswork benches. This group is project active and prolific covering many technical areas of amateur radio. So the next time you want to deep dive into ham radio electronic project building or to learn about technology, tools, test equipment, construction techniques and the rest, listen to the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast available on every podcast player and channel. Use the link in this week's show notes page to get to the Ham Radio Workbench Podcast directly. Now back to my QSO.
So you have the license in hand. Did you find a club? Is that an important thing for you to be a part of a club or find a mentor that might help you along or did you already know the direction you wanted to go?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. So I ended up finding a lot of clubs. One of the nice things about upstate New York is there are a lot of clubs, and there's also a lot of repeaters up here, both repeaters for plugs and just independent repeaters as well. So I'm actually a member of two different clubs. So there is Tara, the Troy New York Amateur Radio Club, and there's also EGARA, which is the East Greenbush Club. East Greenbush is just right next to Troy where I live. So I'm actually a member of both. I attend both sets of meetings every month or at least I do my best to attend both sets of meetings every month.
Then one of the really nice things about the pandemic or maybe not nice, but one of the interesting things about the pandemic was through that online testing, I was able to meet people not in my area directly who would point me towards other things that I might be interested in. So I remember I think it was my Extra exam. I remember studying for that. At the end, one of the VEs said to me, "Hey, have you started learning Morse code yet?" I said, "No, I hadn't started learning it yet." That VE, and I apologize that I do not remember who it was, said, "Oh, well, there's this great online group called the Long Island CW Club. Yes, you're in upstate New York not in Long Island, but they do virtual classes because of the pandemic. You can go. You can sign up, and you can learn CW that way," and I did.
So I got to a point where I was about 10 words per minute and let it slide. So I was really fortunate in that everywhere I went people were pointing me in the direction of where to go next, and right as you know, ham radio was so large, you can't do everything even if you wanted to do everything. There always seems to be another thousand things that you could do.
So I'm very active in the clubs. I make it a point to always be at club meetings. I don't do as much with the Long Island CW Club anymore just because time is unfortunate and limited, but that's how I began to get involved by both really nice pointers from people who were just willing to say, "Hey, go try out this thing," and then also showing up and making myself known to my local clubs.
Eric, 4Z1UG: When you showed up to your local clubs, so let's talk about TARA, I guess the Troy New York Amateur Radio Club, did you attend their meeting virtually or did you go live?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. So TARA at the time was still doing virtual meetings. So I just went virtually. I had already paid my dues to the club so I was already a member, right? It's nice everything you can do online these days. So I showed up virtually. It was a Zoom meeting introduced myself to the group. I had already had, and I know this is going to go in to yet another tangent, I already had my first QEX article acceptance at that time. So in that introduction, I talked about being a new ham, talked about my interest in the research side of things.
I think this was an October meeting, it was the first one I attended, and they said, "Great. We need someone to speak at the November meeting. Would you like to do it?" Of course, I said, "Sure," because I enjoy speaking to audiences and I almost never turned down an opportunity. So my first real big introduction to the club was me showing off my initial batch of research that I was doing within ham radio, which not everybody can do and I appreciate that and understand that, but it was a really great way just to put my face out there and say, "Here I am. I'm doing stuff. I would like to be a part of your club, and let me know how I can be the best member for this club that I can be."
Eric, 4Z1UG: So that presentation was introducing CW record protocol.
Brian, AD2BA: Correct.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What was that? I mean, it's a very interesting title. What did you teach them?
Brian, AD2BA: So it was a condensed version of, like I said, my first QEX article, which was one of the things that I had discovered learning CW with the Long Island CW Club was while, yes, I was interested in sending the regular QSOs that we might have and do over at CW, I also brought that background in tech that I have and was thinking to myself, "Well, what else can I do with all of these pieces and things that I'm finding around amateur radio?"
So I at the time was doing work with some retro computing stuff like old 8-bit CPUs from the 1980s and transferring data between them. I thought to myself, "Oh, this is a perfect adaptation for CW taking that same method of transferring computer data between those old 8-bit machines, but just using CW to do it."
So I sat down, I wrote an article proposing how you might go about doing that. Of course, Kai and the rest of the team over at QEX was kind enough to accept it. So I presented to TARA a condensed version of that that was more practical in orientation rather than theoretical like the article is.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, so I should point out to the listeners that the reason that we're interviewing Brian today is because Brian was a speaker at the QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo in August, and he did a very fine presentation on design your own communication protocols. I think you used your CW protocol as the example that you used in the presentation. So I'm going to point everyone to please go and look at Brian's presentation.
Brian, you've talked about this theoretically. You gave us demonstrations at the expo. Have you actually tried this on air? Have you tried communicating with another ham using this protocol?
Brian, AD2BA: I've only done it within my house from two stations that I had set up in my house at the moment. I do have a friend who is interested in designing software that could help automate that protocol. We're in a catch 22 where I'm waiting for him to finish that so we can get set up, but I'm also still developing the protocol, which is preventing him from getting that software up and running. So it is coming. I would be very, very happy on the day that I get to announce to the world that we did it and sent something meaningful and useful to each other. So that is in the stay tuned category.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I can see some of the veteran CW operators who are hearing this 50 words a minute of this protocol in CW trying to figure out what country this is coming from because they're trying to decode it in their head and it doesn't seem to make sense, but I'm looking forward to the keyboard version of this. That seems like that would be a lot of fun. Since CW was what the first digital mode that we had on the air, this is a 21st century version of this digital mode.
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah, I hope so. It was actually inspired from a couple of things. So I had met through this work a professor out of Case Western, David. His call sign is, I think it's AD8Y. So he's doing work with students on what's called Coherent CW, which I'm not an expert in, so I'm sure I'll butcher the explanation a tiny bit, which was supposed to be a data mode for CW, but one that technicians could actually use and get on the air with and do data transfer with. So there is actually at least a little bit of history in data modes using it with CW.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What's the current rig?
Brian, AD2BA: I have a tiny house, not a literal tiny house, but a smallish house, and not as much of a backyard to put up antennas as I would like. So at the moment, I'm just VHF/UHF. So I have a handheld, a BaoFeng UV-5R. Then I also have a mobile rig that is hooked up to one of those Ed Fong J-Pole antennas. So I generally use that to get out and chat with people on the repeaters.
Eric, 4Z1UG: How much ribbing are you taking from your amateur radio club for you to get another radio and get on HF?
Brian, AD2BA: A lot. So it is coming. Hopefully, I'll be moving to a bigger place in the next couple of years and I can just put up an actual respectable antenna and then hopefully do HF all across the world is my hope and dream. I'm actually very excited and looking forward to being able to have my first actual DX QSO.
Eric, 4Z1UG: I think you're going to find also that there's so many antenna experts that have so many ways of putting up antennas in a very small limited environment. I think that you might be surprised. As a ham for almost 50 years, that's me, many of my generations seem to be at a loss when it comes to attracting younger people to amateur radio. What do you think that we're missing?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. That's a really good question. So I'll answer that by previewing some future QEX articles that I have in the pipeline. For me, the thing that always speaks most to me, and I have a similar thought process through OpenBSD and things like that is meeting people where they're at, and thinking about all the things that are interesting and useful and meaningful to my students. Of course, my students are not the be all end all. They represent a healthy quite international intersection of 18 to 22-year-olds let's say.
So I've been thinking about ways to meet them where they're at. So where are they at? Well, we have things like social media. I actually think we've done as a hobby a pretty good job at beginning to rise to the challenge of social media and what that means. There are amazing YouTube channels out there focused on amateur radio, too many to name and shout out. There are other methods that we can use as well. So thinking about how do we leverage Facebook to bring in people, which we do. How do we leverage things like Instagram and TikTok to bring people in? Even LinkedIn, which we don't necessarily think as an exciting or informal social network. I still am a member of amateur radio groups on LinkedIn.
So how do we bring those people in? So the preview, one of my future QEX articles is I was thinking about, "Well, how do we use SSTV and go beyond just sending images to one another?" Think about Instagram, think about TikTok. That's how people are sharing their lives today. So how do we leverage amateur radio as both the progenitor and a modern vehicle of all those social media things that people want to do?
So one of my articles coming up is actually how you can embed data into an SSTV transmission in such a way that it doesn't actually increase the size or transmission time for that SSTV transmission. So not only can we send pictures to each other, maybe it's pictures with tagging information like you might get on Instagram or some other way of sharing. Maybe it has a link to an Instagram account where you can also see that picture and maybe comment on it with other amateur radio operators. There's other people who may not yet be in the hobby but have come to it through this other interactions of, "Hey, that's really cool. I, too, want to be able to not only just upload my pictures to Instagram, but also send them to people I know up the block who may not be on Instagram, but can receive this image if I send it as a slow-scan television transmission," things like that.
So that's where I've been doing a lot of my thinking is figuring out where people are at, and then just being honest and meeting them there, whatever that is. Even I'm not so old, I don't think, I hope not, even I'm at a generational difference between my students and it is sometimes difficult to meet them where they're at. I just set up a TikTok for my department and I have been frustrated with using the social media thing that I am not used to, but I'm going to do it because it's really important to me to meet my students where they're at and really important to me to meet the next generations of students where they're at.
I think we can do the same for amateur radio. It might have some growing pains, and I'm sure we'll make mistakes along the way, but I have all the faith in the world that we can do it.
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Your students probably maybe the whole generation from 18 into their early 30s are used to having a high speed platform to put video and images out there for the world to see almost instantly. What do you think the allure is for doing it over RF, frankly at a much slower rate, and maybe without the resolution? What do you think the hook is for that generation who might take the technology that they're using every day for granted?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. Absolutely. So I think the first one is it can help them not take it for granted, right? Seeing something come over the airwaves through RF is not wholly different from sending things via the internet. It just does it more quickly. Also, it helps us break down exactly what's happening. Well, you have to break up the image into constituent parts. You have to transmit those constituent parts. You have to reassemble those constituent parts.
So I think there's a good argument to be made of expanding pedagogy through the kind of work that we can do with RF to help slow down things that they take for granted, to help them begin to understand exactly how it is that a transmission gets from point A to point B even if not in the exact same form it might take for the internet, and then getting them involved and interested in, "All right. Well, okay, what's the next step? Can I take these lessons here that I've learned with amateur radio, maybe apply them to amateur radio, but also how do I then now go apply them to all the really big challenges that we're going to have in the 21st century around global communications?" So I think that pedagogic pathway is there for us.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Now, in your area of study, in your department where you're working on IT security and stuff, are you doing any work with say WiFi or LoRa or these other wireless data technologies that might be like a taste of amateur radio because it's wireless, but allow you to get in there deep, get your hands on it? Are you doing any of that stuff?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. Unfortunately, I'm not. So my focus in security is elsewhere, but I know I have students who are interested in LoRa and things like that. So I'm sure it's something that I'm going to pick up along the way. I'm also tangentially involved with the ham-sci community. Unfortunately, their meeting times are right in the middle of a class for me this semester, so I can't actually make the meetings. So I'm hoping to expand my knowledge particularly on things like LoRa through them. So then, yes, I will have things to talk to you about in the future about just that topic.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you think that you have an opportunity maybe as a new ham, but also as a new ham closer to their generation? Do you think that any of your students may actually become amateur radio operators as a result of their interactions with you?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. So I do have some students who are amateur operators right now not because of me.
They just also happen to be hams themselves, but, yes. So RPI, where I'm at, they have a club that celebrated its 100th year anniversary a couple years back. That's W2SZ. They're a little quiet right now I think just because of the pandemic. I don't know stuff going on with that, but they were at least beforehand quite active club and active in contesting and doing all that stuff.
So, yes, I think the interest in students is there. I think we tend to think, at least I know I'm guilty of tending to think of students as being there and they have that major, that thing that they are pursuing, but they tend to soak up everything you put in front of them. Going back to OpenBSD just real quick, I cannot tell you how many students have been through my class who will not put OpenBSD on their resumes or job applications because I make them use it in my infosec courses.
I think people in general and students are no exception are drawn to people who are enthusiastic about the thing that they're doing and really demonstrate a passion and a love for the thing that they are doing. I hope every night, every day to the university, fingers crossed. I begun doing as well with amateur radio, and I have started to get positive feedback from that. So I think the next step for me is having them or having me put my money where my mouth is and scheduling an exam for students who want to come in and pick up their licenses. I think that's the next step for my little departments.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Do you think that my generation of hams also demonstrate that love and passion towards you and your age group and peers that you present towards your students?
Brian, AD2BA: I do. I don't want to make it sound like it was just me and my generation on down. I think that's one of the reasons that I've stuck with amateur radio is because everywhere I went I encountered somebody who was almost always several decades older than I am who very clearly make it a point to make amateur radio a point in their lives. That's infectious. People don't necessarily consciously think of it, but that's really infectious.
So I have definitely benefited from that kind of care and love that the generations above me have for amateur radio. I think the next step then maybe for us together, maybe not literally you and me but generation to generation, is thinking about how we can work together to translate that to the younger generation. Just keep going down progressively each generation and figuring, "Okay. Well, how do we say that thing that resonates with the younger generations?" I think that's some good work ahead of all of us together in amateur radio.
I think the students who are hams have a responsibility to do that as well. I would love it for my students to talk more about amateur radio to those that are and really get people excited about all the ways that amateur radio can be a part of their lives as well.
Eric, 4Z1UG: What excites you the most about what's happening in amateur radio now?
Brian, AD2BA: Everything. There isn't a thing that doesn't excite me about amateur radio, I think. One of the things that I often say that was a little bit of self-deprecating humor, is every time I walk into a room of tech people, whether it be hackers, whether it be amateur radio, you name it, I always come into the room with the thought that I am by far the dumbest person in the room and my job is just to soak up everything that everyone is talking about and see what makes people excited and getting excited about it, too.
So I mean, there really isn't anything that I can think of that I'm not excited about. I am super excited about things like FT8 and seeing where that goes. I see that as the big brother serious professional approach to the research work that I'm doing in amateur radio. I'm excited about the contesting season coming up. Fingers crossed, I'm going to get involved in it somehow, someway this year. I'm really excited about clubs coming back, having stuff in-person. EGARA has been in-person for the last couple of months, and I really enjoy going to the in-person meetings.
I'm really excited about how we've managed to take a lot of the in-person expos and make them online like yours. I'm excited about the expos at our backend person like EGARA's Hamfest, which was just a month or two back. So you name it. If it's something in amateur radio, A, if it's in the magazines, I've definitely read it. I read all the magazines cover to cover. I'm just so excited to see what all the different things that I'm not even aware about in amateur radio that I'm going to be learning about because there are so many other ham operators who are interested in them.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Well, that's a great answer. What can I say? Well, I already have my hotel room for Dayton so that people will know how much of an optimist I am that Dayton will be back this year. I've already booked my hotel room, and hope to be there myself. So not only do I like virtual, I also like seeing people on the flesh.
Brian, AD2BA: Me, too. There's just something about being able to see in a tangible space other people and bounce ideas off of them in real-time face-to-face that you just can't replicate anywhere.
Eric, 4Z1UG: You can also see that with virtualists, I'm tooting my own horn here, that the quality and depth that we can do with presentations you can't do live oftentimes.
Brian, AD2BA: Yes.
Eric, 4Z1UG: There's a nice combination going there, and I'm actually looking forward to at some point creating a hybrid event or attending a hybrid event to see how that plays out. I can see the cost of that escalating through the roof on the one hand. On the other hand, it should make a very interesting user experience for people both live and people who are connected over the internet.
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. Sign me up whenever you have that expo, that hybrid one. Sign me up.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Certainly I would. What advice would you give to newer returning hams now that you are out there promoting ham radio?
Brian, AD2BA: Yeah. So it's a two-pronged attack, I think. I think one is if you're thinking about doing it, even if it's the smallest thought in the farthest back region of your head, just do it. The worst that's going to happen is you're not going to enjoy it as you once did, and that's okay. Life is interesting in that way, but I suspect for a lot of us, if you're new or returning, if you just try it, you find out that you might just like it a little bit more than you had anticipated. So that's maybe prong one is to just do it however and wherever you can.
The second prong is find whatever it is within the large scope of amateur radio that you're passionate about. Look, I might be the strangest outlier, and the thing that I'm really passionate about is doing research about what we can accomplish with the radio waves and then writing articles and sending them off to QEX to get published, right? That might be a little different for most people, but you have, whatever it is, you have that thing that gets you out of bed in the morning and gets you to everyday make amateur radio a part of your life.
So foster that.
The nice thing about the internet is that you can probably find other people who may not be local to you that also have that very same interest, and so not just doing long distance ham QSOs, but sitting down at a keyboard sometimes and just saying, "Hey, we both are interested in this thing. How do we do it together?"
I guess the third prong of the attack then is to find people who are also interested to do it together. I think we all enjoy the feeling that you did something personally, but I at least always find even more enjoyment about the things that we did together rather than just the thing that I did myself. So I guess that would be my three-pronged attack to both new and returning hams.
Eric, 4Z1UG: Brian, I want to thank you so much for a very interesting and entertaining hour. I really appreciate your coming on the QSO Today Podcast. With that, I want to wish you 73.
Brian, AD2BA: 73.
Eric, 4Z1UG: That concludes this episode of QSO Today. I hope that you enjoyed this QSO with Brian. Please be sure to check out the show notes that include links and information about the topics that we discussed. Go to www.qsotoday.com and put in AD2BA in the search box at the top of the page.
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Until next time, this is Eric, 4Z1UG. 73.
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